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3 Badass Productivity Hacks to Master Your Time Without Breaking a Sweat
Or how busy data leads can get most of their time
As one of the very few data experts at your company, you have way too many stakeholders. Everybody needs your attention, and you don't have the time to push your goals.
Let's face it:
You have a prioritisation problem!
You don't have time to do real work because you let other people decide how you spend your time. You are busy but not productive at all.
You are not alone. In fact, 79% of people admit they don't feel productive.
By increasing your efficiency, you can do more with less effort. That means better results and, hopefully, the sweet promotion you dream of. You will also have more energy at the end of your work days and have the time for important people in your life.
In this article, I'll share with you three simple productivity hacks. I have been using them for years to stay focused and keep on track with my priorities.
We will explore three time-tested practices:
Timeboxing - How to get the most out of your calendar by defining your priorities.
Notifications - How to reduce distractions from popups and sounds.
Handwriting - How to stay concentrated and reduce clutter.
Sounds good? Now off we go!
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Timeboxing is one of the most popular productivity hacks on the planet. I won't insult your intellect by explaining what it is. Instead, I will give you some valuable tips I learned in the last few years.
The calendar can be your nightmare and your saviour.
Did you know more than 78% of people feel their schedule is out of control?
Let’s look at your calendar for a moment.
How do you feel? Tired, stressed, annoyed?
Do you have the time to focus on your tasks and show your strengths?
How often do you need to switch contexts?
This chaos is exhausting, and it has to stop!
Make space for what is important
Reduce the number of meetings you attend.
Decline meetings you don't contribute to. Look for opportunities to turn other arrangements into recurring Slack threads. Ask yourself if an appointment is worth your time before accepting it. Make as much free time as you can.
I know choosing whether to attend a meeting or not is hard. I make the same choice every day. But you can't focus on your priorities if you overflow your schedule.
You need to put your priorities first.
Here's the truth:
You might feel like you are missing out on something or letting people down, but I assure you this is not the case. Most people have the same problem with calls as you. In fact, they might feel relieved they don't have to attend one more meaningless meeting.
But please, keep in touch with colleagues every now and then. They still rely on you for those dbt models, and you want them to update you with any business process changes.
Add events for the start and end of the work day to your calendar. Workaholics — I bet you are one of us — start working early and continue until it's too late. The truth is, you don’t need to overwork yourself. In fact, my favourite manager so far, Serge, spent a lot of time breaking that habit from me.
Quite often, we'd skip lunch because we got too many tasks.
But you don't like being hungry, do you?
So, timebox your lunchtime too.
I know you need more people in the team. The company relies on you to feed correct numbers to the board, but you need to rest.
Even if you have the energy to work long hours, this work/life balance is unsustainable. If you don't take a break when you need to, you'll start making mistakes.
I'm talking about mistakes like when I worked until 1 am and scaled out Redshift much more than I needed to. My mistake could result in a bill increase of thousands of dollars for one night!
What happened next was unthinkable:
AWS noticed the spike and contacted us. They learned what happened and immediately offered to scratch our bill!
This sounds great, but you should rely on something other than miracles.
So, take some rest.
Timeboxing will only work if you set aside time, even for your tiniest tasks. I have slots to check email, review code, or post a weekly music challenge — I ask my colleagues to publish a song in Slack on a weird topic I come up with.
You have to be careful with this one, though.
Refrain from overbooking yourself. You need to be available for people who need your help. But, if you drop whatever you are doing and help them on the spot, you'd ruin your whole schedule.
So, leave some empty space here and there.
A group of researchers found out context switching could cost you 20-40% of your efficiency. Grouping similar tasks together prevents context switching and increase your productivity.
Look for opportunities to batch tasks by context.
In my case, I have my team's daily right before the leads meeting. That way, I can gather the necessary information and pass it away immediately with minimal context switching. I also have created my "team day" by scheduling all one-on-one meetings in a single day.
You don't have to be a productivity guru to get the most out of your time, but you must be mindful of your priorities.
Timeboxing is a simple technique. It guarantees you can move the needle forward without burning out. You can even supercharge this productivity hack with some tricks for ultimate effect.
What more could you ask, right?
Well, hold on because we are not even halfway through!
According to research from 2015, an average person would receive about 80 notifications a day.
Some people would get up to 200 push notifications in a single day!
Just on their phone!
Eight years ago!
Now add all those Slack popups, email pings and eight more years of technological innovation.
I know what you are thinking:
You don't mind all the sounds and red balloons. You are not even noticing them.
But do you know what?…
You would still get distracted even if you don't check your phone after every ding.
You are Hooked
Have you found yourself in a situation where you are in deep work mode, just to be interrupted by the welcoming chime coming from your phone?
You ignore it and continue your work. But for some reason can't stop thinking about the notification sound. Your curiosity eats you.
What if it's something important?
You got to check your phone!
So fifteen seconds later, you grab your phone, unlock it and... It is a TikTok video of a cat with a funny hat. You watch the video and decide to scroll for one more second.
OK, you had a lovely short break. Let's get back to work. You look at the clock and can't believe it...
You spent 20 minutes watching that shit!
This is precisely what those alerts are designed to do. Their developers want you to spend as much time as possible on the apps. Or, as Nir Eyal says in his book, they want you to get Hooked.
So, what productivity hack can prevent this from happening?
Get rid of notifications
Do you need to know about somebody's birthday while you are in the middle of something?
Is it necessary to answer every single message immediately?
How important is knowing if "Someone viewed your profile" on LinkedIn? Which notifications should you disable?
It is up to you to decide.
My advice here is to do it case by case. Don't open turn all your notifications at once. Instead, wait until a popup appears. Allow yourself to examine your feelings about every alert and cut guesswork.
If you find a notification productive, fine, but if it doesn't provide value, block that sucker.
No popups and no sound prompts!
I left only three:
Phone calls - This is how I expect to get the news in an emergency.
Pings in a list of specific Slack channels - You know, work-related incidents.
Calendar events - Timeboxing and stuff.
I don't get notified in any other case on my phone or my computer. I don't need to answer every message on Slack or Messenger immediately.
Does that make sense in your situation?
Let people know how to find you
Here is the truth:
Some people around you might get frustrated. You have to explain to them how important it is to get things done.
Tell them to call you in case you need to act immediately.
You are not ignoring or forgetting them; your answers are just lagging.
In fact, my workplace has a policy which helps people get in touch in some extreme cases. We need to add our phone numbers to our Slack profiles.
I've been called once when my reverse ETL script almost broke the entire billing system.
Now for the other part of the story:
The FOMO will be strong in you in the beginning. You will need some time to get used to living without unwanted interruptions.
You must be in charge of your attention and control when you consume content. The best way to do that is to find the right time to look at what is waiting for you.
How do you find your "me time"?
Put a short "Social media" slot in your diary. It's that easy!
Notifications are a killer for your productivity. You are a busy expert and need to decide which alerts bring value and which need to go. It is essential to let people contact you in case of an emergency. On the other hand, you can still make sure you have some time for yourself.
We discussed two of the three productivity hacks I promised you. You might be eager to start working on those.
But wait, we are still going!
I left the most simple practice for the end.
I am not joking. Just put a notebook and a pen on your desk.
Handwriting might sound old school to you, but it works. It is a unique way of organising thoughts and ideas and keeping track of important information.
A study showed that students who used pen and paper wrote significantly fewer words. At the same time, they understand the material better.
I used to type my notes on the computer. Whenever I had an idea or an item for my to-do list, I would open Google Docs or Notion and tap on my mechanical keyboard.
Typing notes on the computer was working in a sense (if you ignore how distracting it was for my colleagues). The more significant problem was losing myself between apps all the time. I was activating random shortcuts on the wrong piece of software. I needed to fix the problem I had caused and find the right place to write a sentence.
The clutter was killing my flow. Penmanship was the lifesaving solution for my productivity.
If you are like me, you might have forgotten how it works. So here's a short instruction:
Every time you have an idea, a problem or a task, write it down in your notebook.
Those can go there too.
You can also borrow bullet journaling ideas if you want to go all in. I personally use some symbols with a specific meanings.
Moments of silence
It might feel awkward when you are in a meeting, and people seek your answer, but you are writing something. Don't stress yourself too much.
Just tell them you need a few seconds to finish your note and speak. A few seconds of silence are not the end of the world.
In fact, silence allows everybody to think for a bit before speaking.
Getting things done
Taking handwritten notes is a bit tricky. You'd be eager to start ticking off tasks from your notebook immediately.
Don't do it!
At the end of the day, the idea is to stay focused and minimise context switching.
Add a small "Notes Review" slot in your calendar at the end of your workday. When the time comes, check your notes and plan them for the next few days. I love doing quick tasks right after the review and finishing the day with a sense of accomplishment.
Handwriting is becoming modern again. It helps you focus on the moment. All you need to do is to jot down a few ideas in your notebook. You'll use fewer words but remember significant bits better. You always know where your notes are, and you need to look at them at the end of the day.
You are a busy person, and everybody needs your expertise in data. You likely feel like you have too much on your shoulders and can't keep up with your tasks. In this article, I shared three of the most helpful productivity hacks I have used for years.
We discussed minimising context switching with the power of prioritisation and timeboxing. You also learned how notifications impact your focus and why you don't need them. In the end, I told you why I gave up scribbling digital notes and started using an analogue notebook again.
Now, it's your time to get in control of your productivity and do more with less effort.
But wait, let's not end it here!
Share what your favourite productivity trick is. I'd love to hear some stories you might have too.